James Meredith Honored by Student Organization

Columns Society class named for civil rights icon who integrated university 60 years ago

The 2022-23 class of the Columns Society has been named to honor James Meredith, who integrated the university when he enrolled 60 years ago. Columns Society members serve as the official hosts and hostesses for the university at a variety of public events. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A distinguished student organization at the University of Mississippi has selected James Meredith as the namesake for its 2022-23 class of members. On Oct. 1, 1962, Meredith became the first African American to enroll at the university.

Each spring, the outgoing class of the Columns Society is responsible for naming the new class for a member of the Ole Miss community who exemplifies the principles of the society: leadership, humble service and integrity. The class name signifies an individual who has had a lasting impact on campus and someone the new members admire.

Last year, the society’s Jacqueline “Jackie” Certion class voted to name the incoming class to honor Meredith.

Upon learning of the honor, Meredith shared a note of thanks with Columns Society members.

“Because of my degree from Ole Miss, I have received accolades all around the world,” Meredith said. “None are as dear to me as this one.”

Natasha Jeter, assistant vice chancellor for wellness and student success and Columns Society adviser, explains that the society is a respected student organization at the university.

“Consisting of the university’s 30 most distinguished student leaders, members are students who uphold the principles of humble service, leadership and integrity,” Jeter said.

“These values allow members of the Columns Society to serve as the university’s official student hosts and hostesses.”

As part of the nomination process for naming the new class, students are required to give a short speech to their fellow members to advocate for their nominee.

UM senior Michael McWilliams (left), president of the Columns Society, chats with James Meredith before an event. The society’s 2022-23 class has been named in Meredith’s honor. Submitted photo

“I am honored that Mr. Meredith allowed the Columns Society to name the Induction Class of 2022 after him,” said Michael McWilliams, a senior general engineering major from Ridgeland and this year’s president. “I believe that Mr. Meredith beautifully exemplifies the principles that we strive to reach. No one has served this university in a higher capacity than Mr. Meredith, leading the University of Mississippi through 1962 in the face of tumultuous opposition.

“Mr. Meredith displays constant humility and integrity, representing not only our university, but also the state of Mississippi as someone who exhibits courage, knowledge, opportunity and perseverance. The Induction Class of 2022 being named after James Meredith is a constant reminder to me of what it looks like to truly live by the principles that the Columns Society was founded upon.”

Previous classes have been named for the Lyceum, Robert Khayat, UM chancellor emeritus; Gloria Kellum, vice chancellor emerita for university relations; the magnolia, the state flower; Larry Ridgeway, vice chancellor emeritus for student affairs; Melinda Carlson, former associate dean of students; Dan Jones, chancellor emeritus, and his wife, Lydia Jones; Morris Stocks, professor of accountancy and former provost; Donald Cole, retired assistant provost and special assistant to the chancellor; the late Dewey Knight, former associate director of the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience; Whitman Smith, former director of admissions; Larry Sparks, vice chancellor emeritus for administration and finance; and the late Jackie Certion, former assistant director of the FASTrack program.

The Columns Society naming for Meredith is among a number of tributes and events in commemoration of the university’s 60th anniversary of integration. Focused on the theme of “The Mission Continues: Building Upon the Legacy,” the series of events, panel discussions, lectures, exhibits and other activities span the 2022-23 academic year.